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Sebastián Piñera returns to the Presidential Palacio de la Moneda, succeeding Michelle Bachelet as president of Chile, as in 2010.
Yesterday's economic activity data from Peru signalled that the relatively firm business cycle continues. The monthly GDP index accelerated to 3.6% year-over-year in November, rising from 2.1% in October, but marginally below the 4.4% on average in Q3. Growth continued to be driven by mining output, including oil and gas, which rose 15% year-over- year. The opening of several new mines explains the upturn, and we expect the sector to remain key for the Peruvian economy this year.
Commodity prices have started the year under further downward pressure. This is yet more negative news for LatAm, as most of the countries have failed to diversify, instead relying on oil or copper for a large share of exports and, critically, tax revenue. Venezuela is the biggest loser in the region from the oil hit, and, together with the worsening political and economic crisis, it has pushed the country even closer to the verge of collapse, threatening its debt payments. Venezuela's central bank last week released economic data for the first time since 2014, showing that inflation spiralled to 141% and that the economy shrank 4.5% in the first nine months of last year.
Chile's economic outlook is still clouded, due mostly to the slowdown in China and low copper prices. But the steady, slow increase in the Imacec index, a monthly proxy for GDP, supports our view of a sustained but modest economic recovery this year. The index increased 1.8% year-over-year in November, marginally up from the meagre 1.5% gain in October, but below the 2.2% average seen during Q3 as a whole. November's gain was driven by an increase in services activity, offsetting weakness in mining. Services have been the key engine of growth in the current cycle and likely will remain so in H1.
Growth in South America disappointed last year, but prospects are gradually improving on the back of rising commodity prices and the global manufacturing rebound. These factors will help to ease the region's external and fiscal vulnerabilities, particularly over the second half of the year. On the domestic front, though, the first quarter has proved challenging for some countries, hit by temporary supply factors such as a mine strikes, floods, and wildfires.
Colombia's trade deficit continued to narrow in Q3; a postive development now that EM are back in the firing line. Assuming no revisions, the marginal year-over-year dip in the September trade deficit means that the third quarter deficit was USD3.1B, down from US4.6B a year ago.
Chile's central bank cut the country's main interest rate by 25bp to 3.25% last Thursday. The easing was expected, as the board adopted a dovish bias last month, after keeping a neutral stance for most of 2016. Last week's move, coupled with the tone of the communiqué, suggests that further easing is coming, as growth continues to disappoint and inflation pressures are easing.
Brazil's external deficit fell marginally in October, but most of the improvement is now likely behind us. The unadjusted current account deficit dipped to USD3.3B, from USD4.3B in October 2015. The trend is stabilizing, with the 12-month total rolling deficit easing to USD22B--that's 1.2% of GDP--from USD23B in September.
Economic data released on Friday underscored our view that bolder rate cuts in Brazil are looming. The BCB's latest BCB's inflation report, released on Thursday, showed that policymakers now see conditions in place to increase the pace of easing "moderately" .
Recent global developments lead us to intensify our focus on trade in LatAm.
Mexico's central bank last week left its policy rate at 7.0%, the highest level since early 2009.
LatAm investors' concerns about U.S. monetary policy expectations and the broad direction of the USD should on the back burner until the Fed hikes again, likely in September. This will leave room for country-specific drivers to take centre stage. That should support Mexico's MXN, which already has risen 14% year-to-date against the USD, erasing its losses after the US election last November.
The Brazilian BRL has remained relatively stable year-to-date, following a strong rebound in January. But downward pressures have re-emerged over the last two months, as shown in our first chart.
Chile's economy is showing the first reliable signs of improvement, at last. December retail sales rose 1.9% year-over-year, up from 0.4% in November, indicating that household expenditure is starting to revive, in line with a pick-up in consumer confidence and the improving labor market.
Incoming data confirm our view that the Chilean economy to rebound steadily in the second half of the year, with real GDP increasing 1.5% quarter-on-quarter in Q3, after a relatively modest 0.9% increase in Q2 and a meagre 0.1% in Q1.
The sharp downtrend in commodity prices in recent months is alarming from a LatAm perspective.
LatAm financial markets have performed solidly in the first sessions of the year, with most regional currencies trading more strongly against the USD.
Chile's economic outlook remains challenging. Overall, 2015 will likely mark the second consecutive year of disappointing growth, but it will be better than 2014, a year to forget.
Chile's central bank, the BCCh, held its reference rate unchanged at 2.75% on Tuesday, in line with the majority of analysts' forecasts.
The Imacec data released on Wednesday provided further evidence that the Chilean economy grew at a decent pace in the second quarter, following a very sluggish first quarter.
LatAm assets have done well in recent weeks on the back of upbeat investor risk sentiment, low volatility in developed markets and a relatively benign USD. A less confrontational approach from the U.S. administration to trade policy has helped too.
Recent economic indicators in Mexico have been mixed, distorted by temporary factors, including the effect of the natural disasters in late Q3. Private consumption has lost some momentum, hit by the lagged effect of high interest rates and inflation, as well as the earthquakes.
Chile's economy remains under pressure, at least temporarily. After signs of recovery in Q1, activity deteriorated in Q2 and at the start of the third quarter. The sluggish global economy--especially China, Chile's main trading partner--is exacerbating the domestic slowdown, hit by low business and consumer confidence.
Chile's growth dynamics were robust in August, according to the latest data. Production rose and consumption remained strong during most of Q3. Indeed, industrial output increased 5.1% year-over- year, up from an already strong 3.1% increase in July, and contrasting sharply with the 2% fall in Q2.
Data released yesterday show that the Chilean economy had a weak start to the second half of the year.
Chile's Q2 GDP report, released yesterday, confirmed that the economy gathered strength in the first half of the year, consolidating a strong recovery that started in Q3 2017.
Brazil heads to the polls on Sunday, followed by an expected run-off on October 28.
Chilean GDP growth hit bottom in August, but activity is now picking up and will gather speed over the coming quarters. The tailwinds from lower oil prices and fiscal stimulus will soon be visible in the activity data.
The downturn in LatAm is finally bottoming out, but the economy of the region as a whole will not return to positive year-over-year economic growth until next year. The domestic side of the region's economy is improving, at the margin, thanks mainly to the improving inflation picture, and relatively healthy labor markets.
Chile's central bank cut the policy rate 25bp last week to 3.0%, in line with consensus, amid easing inflationary pressures. The timing of the rate cut was no surprise; in January, the BCCh cut rates for the first time in more than two years, and kept a dovish bias.
Chile's Central Bank's monetary policy meeting, scheduled for tomorrow, likely will be one of the most difficult in recent months. Economic activity remains soft, and GDP likely contracted in Q4, due to weakness in mining output and investment.
Peru's central bank left its policy interest rate unchanged at 3.75% last week, but signalled that further easing is on the way. According to the press release accompanying the decision, policymakers noted that inflation expectations are within their target range and still falling.
The medium-term outlook in most LatAm economies is improving, though economic activity is likely to remain anaemic in the near term. The gradual recovery in commodity prices is supporting resource economies, while the post-election surge in global stock prices has boosted confidence. But country-specific domestic considerations are equally relevant; the growth stories differ across the region.
Volatility and risk will remain high in L atAm for the foreseeable future. President-elect Donald Trump's uncertain foreign policies could have a considerable impact on LatAm economies in the months and years ahead.
Uncertainty about the U.S. economic and political outlook, following Donald Trump's presidential win, likely will cast a long shadow over EM in general and LatAm in particular. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump argued for tearing up NAFTA and building a border wall.
Mexico's inflation remains the envy of LatAm, having consistently outperformed the rest of the region this year. Headline inflation slowed marginally to 2.5% in October, a record low and below the middle of Banxico's target, 2-to-4%, for the sixth straight month. The annual core rate increased marginally to 2.5% in October from 2.4% in September, but it remains below the target and its underlying trend is inching up only at a very slow pace. We expect it to remain subdued, closing the year around 2.7% year-over-year. Next year it will gradually increase, but will stay below 3.5% during the first half of 2016, given the lack of demand pressures and the ample output gap.
Industrial output in Chile struggled late in the third quarter, falling 1.3% month-to-month in September. The year-over-year rate, calendar and seasonally adjusted, rose 2.4% in September, down from a revised 5.3% in August.
Data released yesterday reinforced our forecast of a further rate cut in Brazil next month.
On December 17, voters will go to the polls for the second time in less than a month to choose Chile's next president.
The resilience and adaptability that the Chilean economy has shown over previous cycles has been tested repeatedly over the last year. Uncertainty on the political front, falling metal prices, and growing concerns about growth in China have been the key factors behind expectations of slowing GDP growth.
Chile's Q2 GDP report, released on Friday, confirmed that the economy gathered momentum in recent months, following an alarmingly weak start to the year.
LatAm economies are being battered by high inflation triggered by currency sell-offs and El Niño supply shocks, so rates have had to rise despite the challenging global environment. Peru's central bank, the BCRP, was forced to increase interest rates by 25bp to 4.25% last Thursday, the fourth hike in six months, as inflation is far above the central bank's 1-to-3% target range.
Selling pressure in LatAm markets after Donald Trump's election victory eased when the dollar rally paused earlier this week. Yesterday, the yield on 10- year Mexican bonds slipped from its cycle high, and rates in other major LatAm economies also dipped slightly.
In a surprise move, Peru's central bank, BCRP, succumbed to the current weakness of the economy and cut interest rates by 25bp to 3.25% last Thursday, for the first time since August last year. The board also lowered the interest rates on lending and deposit operations between the central bank and financial institutions.
Brazil's economic data last week were appalling. The IPCA-15 price index rose 1.3% month-to-month, the fastest pace in 12 years, pushing the annual rate to 7.4% in mid-February from 6.7% in mid-January,well above the 6.5% upper bound of the BCB's target range.
Chile's Q3 GDP report, released yesterday, confirmed that the economy lost momentum in the last quarter.
Inflation pressures in LatAm are moderating, and governments have been taking steps to pursue fiscal consolidation. These factors, coupled with a relatively favourable external environment, are providing policymakers with the opportunity to start relaxing monetary policy.
Policymakers in Chile left rates unchanged at their monetary policy meeting last week, maintaining their neutral bias.
The Andean economies were in the middle of a perfect storm in the first half of the year, suffering slow recoveries, accelerating inflation and plunging commodity prices and currencies. Under these circumstances it was no surprise that Chile and Peru last week left their main interest rates on hold, close to their lowest levels in four years. The pressure coming from their plummeting currencies, however, means their next moves likely will be rate hikes, but not this year.
Chile's Central Bank left its main interest rate unchanged last week at 3.0%, for the seventh month in a row. The press release maintained its neutral tone, as in previous recent meetings, as the BCCh acknowledged that the economy is growing at a moderate pace, with some indicators suggesting less dynamic growth "at the margin".
The Mexican labor market has remained relatively healthy in recent months, despite many external and domestic headwinds. Formal employment has increased by 2.1% year-to-date and by 3½% in the year to July, according to the Mexican Social Security Institute.
Peru's central bank, BCRP, left rates unchanged last week, at 3.25%, a four-year low. Above-target inflation and currency volatility prevented the Board from cutting rates.
Chile's economic indicators for July were unreservedly weak, confirming that the economic recovery remains sluggish. The industrial production index--comprising mining, manufacturing, and utility output--fell by 5.2% year-over-year in August, after a 1.7% contraction in July. Mining production suffered a sharp 9.3% year-over-year contraction, due mainly to an 8.3% fall in copper production, as strikes and maintenance works badly hit the industry.
Chile's weak indicators in January confirm that the economy is struggling. Mining output plunged 12.6% year-over-year, down from a modest 0.6% contraction during Q4, due mostly to falling copper production and an unfavourable base effect. This will reverse in February but we still look for a 5% drop.
The recovery of some key commodity prices, policy action in China, and stronger expectations that the U.S. Fed will start hiking rates later during the year, have helped reduce volatility in LatAm financial markets. Oil prices have rise by around 20% year-to-date, iron ore prices are up about 60% and copper has risen by 7%.
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